The building that is today the Campbell House was built in 1851 and was the first home built on Lucas Place. Robert and Virginia Campbell were the third owners when they bought the house in 1854, but the history of the ground goes back even further.
Farm and Fire
One of St. Louis’ eminent early citizens, J.B.C. Lucas, bought the property around 1808 as part of the common fields that surrounded the entire city. While called common, individuals owned the fields and used or rented them as farms. These farms provided a key food source for early St. Louis residents.
Lucas’ large farm included three long narrow sections of the common fields that originally stretched from 4th Street (the western edge of the city) to Jefferson Avenue and were separated from north to south by Washington, St. Charles, Locust and Olive streets. The boundaries of these 18th Century common fields mirror almost exactly today’s St. Louis entire street grid.
The section of the property on which the Campbell House would be built continued as a farm until 1849–a disastrous year in St. Louis history. That year the city suffered a catastrophic fire (more than 20 city blocks were leveled) and a cholera epidemic (about 8,200 people died, including the Campbell’s seven-year-old son James).
Lucas Place Established
In 1849, many wealthy St. Louisans, including the Campbells, lived in attached row houses along 5th Street (now Broadway), close to the devastation of the fire and cholera outbreak. In late 1850 or early 1851, siblings James Lucas and Ann Lucas Hunt laid out a residential neighborhood on a section of the farm they had inherited from their father. The main thoroughfare was aptly called Lucas Place.
Lucas and Hunt developed the Lucas Place partly in response to a demand for new housing away from the congestion, noise and coal pollution of the city center and where there was less of a danger of fire and disease which had recently been so devastating.
Originally Lucas Place (now Locust Street) extended between 13th and 16th streets when the city limits were just one block to the west between 17th and 18th streets. When established, Lucas Place was west of the developed portion of the city, making it St. Louis’ first “suburban” neighborhood. Lucas Place was also the first clearly defined wealthy neighborhood in St. Louis. However, it was a neighborhood for new money–none of St. Louis’ old wealthy families lived on Lucas Place.
As in many of St. Louis’ later private streets, Lucas Place properties also had deed restrictions. All buildings had to be set back 25 feet from the street. No commercial enterprises of any kind were allowed, however churches and schools were not restricted. These restrictions expired in the 1880s.
At the eastern end, Missouri Park stretched across Lucas Place preventing through traffic into the neighborhood. The Lucas family deeded Missouri Park to the City of St. Louis in 1854, making it a permanent feature of the neighborhood. The park was located between 13th and 14th streets, where the St. Louis Public Library and Lucas Park are today. The park was the key element in defining the neighborhood as “a place apart.”
In 1853 an extension to Lucas Place was added from 16th to 18th streets and in 1859 Lucas and his sister extended Lucas Place further to Jefferson Avenue. Little residential development took place in this later extension.
Lucas Place became successful in attracting wealthy St. Louisans seeking permanent and reasonably secluded homes as an escape from the undesirable conditions of the quickly growing city.
The Campbells, along with some of St. Louis most influential citizens, made Lucas Place their home. Not surprisingly, both James Lucas and his sister Ann Lucas Hunt were residents–Lucas at 1515 Lucas Place and Hunt at 1706 Lucas Place.
Other residents included prominent businessmen, politicians, judges and generals. Trusten Polk (1400 Lucas Place) was the Governor of Missouri (1856) and U.S. Senator from Missouri (1857-1863). John How (1515 Lucas Place) and Nathan Cole (1728 Lucas Place) were both Mayors of St. Louis (How, 1853-1857 and Cole, 1869-1871).
Henry Hitchcock (1507 Lucas Place) was a prominent lawyer and the founder and first dean of Washington University Law School. Amadee Valle (1516 Lucas Place), descended from one of the oldest families in the Mississippi Valley, was a close friend of Abraham Lincoln and Henry Shaw and a member of the state legislature. General William Harney (1428 Lucas Place) had a distinguished 40-year military career that included command of the Army’s Department of the West at the start of the Civil War. William Morrison (1626 Lucas Place) married the daughter of Daniel Bissell and was one of the founders of both Boatman’s Bank and the Mercantile Library. Henry Kayser (1420 Lucas Place) was the city engineer responsible for the creation of St. Louis’ first plumbing and sewer systems in the 1840s.
Religious, Educational and Cultural Institutions
Lucas Place was not only home to important people but also to some of the most prominent religious, educational and cultural institutions in the city.
The First Presbyterian Church, completed in 1855, was on the northwest corner of 14th and Lucas Place overlooking Missouri Park. Second Presbyterian Church was completed in 1870 and it was located on the northwest corner of 18th and Lucas Place. Many families from Second Presbyterian congregation lived on the street, including the Campbells. It was the area between these two churches that formed the original core of Lucas Place.
Other religious institutions in the neighborhood included Christ Church Cathedral (13th and Locust), St. John the Baptist Catholic Church (16th and Chestnut), First Christian Church (17th and Olive), Centenary Methodist Church (16th and Pine) and one of the first Jewish synagogues in St. Louis, the Temple of the Gates of Truth (17th and Chestnut).
St. Louis High School, the first co-educational public high school west of the Mississippi, was built in 1856 on the corner of 15th and Olive streets. A student had to apply and qualify in order to be admitted. In the first year only 63 students were selected for admission from over 200 applications.
Very few of the children living in Lucas Place attended this public school. Most children attended the private schools Mary Institute or Smith Academy. Mary Institute was in the 1400 block of Lucas Place, next to First Presbyterian Church. Smith Academy was part of Washington University, both of which started just north of Lucas Place on Washington Avenue between 17th and 18th streets in 1853. By 1885 both the St. Louis Art Museum and the Missouri Historical Society had located on Lucas Place before moving into their present locations.St. Louis High School, the first co-educational public high school west of the Mississippi, was built in 1856 on the corner of 15th and Olive streets. A student had to apply and qualify in order to be admitted. In the first year only 63 students were selected for admission from over 200 applications.
Decline of Lucas Place
The last residence to be built in Lucas Place was the home of Julia Chouteau Maffitt in 1877. The Lucas family no doubt expected Lucas Place to survive longer than it did, but by the mid-1880s the wealthy residents were again moving westward to more exclusive neighborhoods and Lucas Place slowly began to decline.
The area was rapidly becoming a boarding house district during the 1890s when Lucas Place became an extension of Locust Street as a result of the alteration of Missouri Park and the cut through of Locust Street.
By 1912, only a few Lucas Place houses remained. The headquarters of the General American Life Insurance Co. opened across the street from the Campbell House in 1912. The YWCA opened in 1906 and the YMCA in 1927. Most Lucas Place residents began selling their homes and moved west to neighborhoods like Vandeventer Place and the Central West End. When Hazlett Campbell died in 1938 the Campbell House was the only residence left standing in Lucas Place.